We left in the morning with Bismar and the guests, transported by the senior driver Inocencio. Our first stop was about an hour and a half away: a town called San Juan de Oriente but known as La Cuña de los Artesanos, or “Artesans’ Cradle,” because literally everyone in town works with crafts for sale to tourists or hotels. We entered one of the pottery shops and went downstairs into the workshop, where a young man was waiting to give us a short presentation on pottery. He explained about his family’s business slowly in Spanish and Bismar translated for the guests. Then he took his seat at a wheel and started shaping a small bowl, using several homemade tools—a bicycle spoke, for example—to straighten its edges. The expression on his face showed how much he enjoyed the work, which certainly looked fun even should one have to shape clay all day, every day. After a couple minutes, a small and perfectly round pot was on the table in front of us. He talked some more about clay and then said, “At this moment in the process, the clay is still very fragile,” and demonstrated by plunging his fingers into the side of the vessel, leaving a deep impression in it.
Leaving the wheel, he led us to a larger table where wall lampshades were being made. Tools like a polished beach pebble and a child’s plastic spinning top were used to spread and smooth the paint that was applied with a brush made of a hollow pen and the hair of the girls in the family. A small kiln sat smoking in the corner, baking about twenty of the lampshades. Once the guests asked a couple questions, we thanked the young man, whose unbefitting name it turns out was Stalin, and went up to, of course, the pottery store. Continue reading